Few people seem to realise that making comments or sharing images to social media groups, with the intention of harming a person’s reputation or business, is against the law. This is called defamation, slander and libel and is punishable in almost every country.
What is defamation?
There is a world of difference between sharing provocative banter and critical content online and making deliberately false statements with the intention of changing other people’s attitudes towards a person or their business.
Justifiable criticism is one thing. Deliberately false or misleading content, with intent, is an entirely different matter.
Defamation is classified as one person intentionally spreading false information about another person which can cause others to lose respect for the victim. The circumstance, or severity, in each case may differ but the general principle of defamation is content that will damage the reputation of a business or individual and/or cause others to avoid them.
Read – Online defamation laws
The two main components of defamation are slander, or verbal defamation and libel (written defamation). Statements or claims made online through social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter are considered libel (written defamation)
If an online troll is displaying his or her place of work on their own social media profile then the problem becomes even easier to solve. Most major brand names, both local and international, take a very low view of their employees engaging in the online abuse of decent people and, these days, is often grounds for immediate dismissal.
In an increasingly competitive world all companies are serious about their expensive brand image and employees damaging that image is a serious concern.
Forwarding evidence of your claim to a person’s employer and asking for a comment is often a good way to start, because the abuse will usually stop immediately.
And you can sue the company too if there is evidence the abuse is being carried out ‘in their name’ or ‘by association.’ A logo on a profile page is enough. They know this and are very sensitive about it.
It is the equivalent of a person wearing a company t-shirt and walking up and down a high street libeling and slandering another person or business. You can’t do it. There are long-established laws against it.
And in social media terms the size of the group matters too. 30,000 members is a lot more harmful than 30 people in a high street. It is far more damaging.
This is why major employers take these online abuse complaints so seriously. After all, what would you do if an employee was proudly displaying your company logo on his or her social media accounts whilst enjoying a reputation as an online abuser, visible to all of your current and potential customers.
By the way, these idiots are easy to find if they work for a big company such as HSBC, for example. HR Departments of major firms will quickly identify your abuser once you provide evidence.
And remember, these people already show a lack of judgment, maturity, social skills and display poor temperament. Big companies don’t want people with these flaws working for them anyway, especially if they are client facing.
This is why you should make immediate screen shots or use the snipping tool (or take a photograph) of all online abuse as it proceeds and before the abuser removes it and runs away, like a coward.
Is defamation illegal?
Any form of defamation is illegal. If you do it, and evidence is collected before you can delete it, you will be found guilty of defamation and civil fines apply. It means any court will order the troll to pay damages or compensation to a victim.
The amount will depend on the circumstance and the profile of the victim. It will cost you more to libel David Beckham, for example, than it will your next door neighbour. The amount a victim is awarded will be up to the court and in some cases it is regarded a criminal matter.
What is cyber defamation?
Cyber defamation is any online defamation. An example of cyber defamation is where someone sends an email, or posts public comments, saying hurtful things about you or your business that are untrue or, importantly, unprovable.
It is always the case in law that those making the claims are the ones who have to do the proving. Not the other way round.
What can I do if I have been defamed on the internet?
In the first place contact the website administrator and report what has happened. Request that the content is taken down.
The Court has recognised cyber defamation to be the same as other forms of defamation and you can take action against a person who defames you online.
Even if you are not named personally, as long as there is enough information for other people to recognise that the defamatory material is about you, then it is an offence.
If you feel that you have been defamed by comments, photos or other material written about you online you can also make a police complaint.
What to do if you have defamed someone over the internet?
If you one of these fools, then it is not too late to do something about it before matters become far worse.
Firstly, you must remove the material immediately and hope your victim has not made digital copies. You then have 28 days to improve your situation, whether they ask you to or not.
Even if your victim has not made a complaint, that you are aware of, you can still acknowledge your stupidity and make a public apology through the same platforms as your abuse within 28 days. This will go in your favor at any subsequent court hearing.
It is worth noting that accusing somebody of being ‘thin skinned’ or ‘too sensitive’ after your slanderous abuse is no defense. That actually makes things worse as it demonstrates no remorse.
Finally, you should be aware that even if you are not the original author of any online abuse, sharing libel and defamation from others, through social media, makes you equally responsible.